Butuanons to Congress: junk “defective” bills seeking to protect Mt. Hilong Hilong

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — An organization of  Butuanons including US-based groups urged Congress to scrap what it called  a “deceptive” proposed law to  protect Hilong Hilong from destruction but would seemingly allow mining, logging and quarrying in area.

Rene Vargas, president of the Ivory Charities Foundation (ICF) in Butuan City, said there are two bills now pending at the Senate and the House of Representatives that intend to protect the Hilong Hilong range by declaring it as a protected area but will actually open the area to more exploitation.

His call has been supported by other groups in Butuan, including those based in the United States.

Hilong-hilong is the city’s highest mountain on the northeast side.

Senate Bill 2156 authored by Sen. Pia Cayetano also known as “Mt. Hilong Hilong Range Protected Landscape Act” seeks to protect it from exploitation, maintain its ecological balance and preserve its source of water supply. The same bill is also pending at the house of the representative.

“This is deceptive,” Vargas said in a statement as he cited several provisions that allows mining, logging, quarrying, sale and export of flora, fauna and other resources in the area.

He noted that although logging in the proposed law is prohibited, it “is only prohibited if without the necessary permit, authorization or exemption”.

“Logging should be completely banned in the protected area, there shall be no permits, authorizations or exemption whatsoever,” the statement read.

“We declare that these bills in Congress be withdrawn and substituted with a more environment friendly legislation or presidential proclamation,” it added.

Vargas, a physician, noted that hundreds of trees had been felled and left to rot in the forest;. Quarrying in the river has been rampant and Butuanons are left with diggings on the mountainsides done by outsiders who made money and left.

Mt. Hilong Hilong is 6,601.37 feet above sea level, dwarfing Baguio by a thousand feet. Its mountain range covers the towns of Remedios T. Romualdez, Santiago and cities of Butuan and Cabadbaran all in Agusan del Norte province.

The statement also claimed that Mt. Hilong Hilong is the nesting place of  the bird Kalaw (Philippine Hornbill), the endangered Philippine Eagle, deer, monkeys and wild pigs. It is said that the mountain also serves as a natural barrier shielding Butuan from pacific winds during typhoons.

Supporting ICF’s call, Ramon Burdeos Jr, president of the Agusan Association of Texas (AAT) in Houston, Texas, said their organization “oppose the sale, lease or privatization of Hilong Hilong”. He said the AAT will support continued protection of natural resources and wildlife values of Mt. Hilong Hilong.

The Agusan Association of America headed by Antonio Ariola said in a resolution that “ our families are the primary stakeholders that will suffer the brunt of devastation and exploitation of our environment”. It said that there shall be no mining, no logging, no quarrying, no sale or export of its resources, no dumping of solid or liquid waste and no kaingin” in Mt. Hilong Hilong. (Alden Pantaleon/MindaNews)